When Autumn Came
By Faiz Ahmed Faiz
This is the way that autumn came to the trees:
it stripped them down to the skin,
left their ebony bodies naked.
It shook out their hearts, the yellow leaves,
scattered them over the ground.
Anyone could trample them out of shape
undisturbed by a single moan of protest.
The birds that herald dreams
were exiled from their song,
each voice torn out of its throat.
They dropped into the dust
even before the hunter strung his bow.
Oh, God of May have mercy.
Bless these withered bodies
with the passion of your resurrection;
make their dead veins flow with blood again.
Give some tree the gift of green again.
Let one bird sing.
About the Poet
Faiz Ahmed Faiz was born on February 13, 1911, in Sialkot, India, which is now part of Pakistan. Faiz’s early poems had been conventional, light-hearted treatises on love and beauty, but later, he began to expand into politics, community, and the thematic interconnectedness he felt was fundamental in both life and poetry. He received a bachelor’s degree in Arabic, followed by a two master’s degree, one in English and the other in Arabic. After graduating in 1935, Faiz began a teaching career. During his years teaching, he married Alys George, a British expatriate and convert to Islam, with whom he had two daughters. In 1942, he left teaching to join the British Indian Army, for which he received a British Empire Medal for his service during World War II. After the partition of India in 1947, Faiz resigned from the army and became the editor of The Pakistan Times, a socialist English-language newspaper.
On March 9, 1951, Faiz was arrested with a group of army officers under the Safety Act and charged with the failed coup attempt that became known as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. He was sentenced to death and spent four years in prison before being released. Two of his poetry collections, Dast-e Saba and Zindan Namah, focus on life in prison, which he considered an opportunity to see the world in a new way. While living in Pakistan after his release, Faiz was appointed to the National Council of the Arts by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government, and his poems, which had previously been translated into Russian, earned him the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963.
In 1964, Faiz settled in Karachi and was appointed principal of Abdullah Haroon College, while also working as an editor and writer for several distinguished magazines and newspapers. He worked in an honorary capacity for the Department of Information during the 1965 war between India and Pakistan and wrote stark poems of outrage over the bloodshed between Pakistan, India, and what later became Bangladesh. However, when Bhutto was overthrown by Zia Ul-Haq, Faiz was forced into exile in Beirut, Lebanon. There he edited the magazine Lotus and continued to write poems in Urdu. He remained in exile until 1982. He died in Lahore, Pakistan in 1984, shortly after receiving a nomination for the Nobel Prize.
Throughout his tumultuous life, Faiz continually wrote and published, becoming the best-selling modern Urdu poet in both India and Pakistan. While his work is written in fairly strict diction, his poems maintain a casual, conversational tone, creating tension between the elite and the common, somewhat in the tradition of Ghalib, the renowned 19th century Urdu poet. Faiz is especially celebrated for his poems in traditional Urdu forms, such as the ghazal, and his remarkable ability to expand the conventional thematic expectations to include political and social issues.
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